Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cabin Life: Life At The Bird Feeders

I woke up this morning, as usual, buried by animals.  Ed was lying on my chest, Herbie was at my shoulder flicking me in the face with his tail, and Pico was on my left, resting his head on my open hand.  It was nice and warm in the cabin even though I hadn’t gotten up all night to feed the stove, and I would have been content to lay there for a while before getting out of bed.

I thought about how my car was buried in a snow bank halfway up the driveway and how it’s going to take an hour or so to get it free.  I thought about how I’m still not done shoveling more than a week after our first big snowstorm.  I thought about how nice the bed felt.  Then Ed stretched and farted, and I jumped out of bed more quickly than I would have liked.  Pico and Herbie didn’t wait around in the danger zone either.

I fed the animals and looked out the big window.  It seems like it is getting light a little bit later, but the reflection of the snow definitely helps the pre-dawn light to shine a brighter.  I checked the seed levels in the two bird feeders and decided that they don’t need to be filled today, but that I probably will fill them, just to put off shoveling my car out for another few minutes.

The feeders have been active this winter.  Last year, I had mostly black-capped chickadees, with an occasional visitor such as a house finch or blue jay.  But this year, there is an almost constant presence of chickadees, and white- and red-breasted nuthatches.  And from what I have observed, the red-breasted nuthatches are, well,  jerks.

All three species are pretty small birds, able to fit in the palm of your hand.  But the red-breasted nuthatches are the smallest, with the chickadees in the middle and the white-breasted nuthatches being about the same size as the largest of the chickadees.

There are two feeders, each with two sides to feed on.  At any given time there may be a couple of chickadees on one of the feeders, but then a red-breasted nuthatch will fly in and take over one of their spots.  Even when the other feeder has no birds on it, the reds will chase off a chickadee.  The white-breasted nuthatches don’t seem to be involved in this and generally take off before the reds have a chance to run them off.  The chickadees always share the feeders.

Even though I’m fairly short, I’ve never suffered from “little man syndrome,” that particular attitude short guys can get where they feel the need to overcompensate for their lack of height.  They like to start bar fights for no reason and generally see everyone as a threat.  I think this is what’s happening with the red-breasted nuthatches.  They’re small, so they’re just kind of overcompensating.  They’re not violent, but they’re not passive either.  The other birds seem to have figured out that this is just the way it is and they don’t bother fighting back.  They just get out of the way.

I know that if these birds thought that the seed in the feeders was a limited resource, they would guard and protect the feeders.  But because they know that there is ample food for all, there shouldn’t be that much competition.  I like having the variety of birds that come to the feeder.  It’s interesting to me and it’s the perfect reality TV for the cats.  I like watching them sift through the seed for their favorites.  I like watching them take an impossibly small seed and grip it in their feet to peck it open.   But I like it even more when all the birds can linger in peace eight inches from my window.

Justin A Levine

Justin A Levine

Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.




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6 Responses

  1. Bill Ott says:

    Your cabin life stories are all good,and this one is a classic – crisp and hilarious. The writing style matches the weather. I was laughing so hard that Peggy came to see what it was about. I would love to see you on Jay Leno.

    Bill Ott
    Lakewood, Ohio

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    • AdkBuddy says:

      Why doesn’t my thumbs up register?

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      • Bill Ott says:

        Hi, just gave you a thumbs up (a real one, too), and did not see it until I reloaded the page.

        Bill Ott
        Member
        Mutual Appreciation Society
        Lakewood, Ohio

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  2. Wally Elton Wally says:

    Interested in your bird observations. Here in Saratoga Springs, we have had white-breasted nuthatches since I arrived about two years ago, but red-breasteds just showed up this winter. The latter generally seem to zip in and out when no one else is present, while the white-breasteds go to the feeder when they want and will chase off almost anything already there or that tries to come in while s/he is present. Kind of the opposite of what you describe.

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  3. joan streetman says:

    well I feed the birds too but the hawk comes in and steals one of white wing doves and leaves and eats them and it is making me so disgusted but I guess that is nature.

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  4. Renee Weaver says:

    How nice of you to share your experiences with us. I am a fellow bird watcher…..keep my feeders full all year, especially in the winter. Lots of cardinals, eastern blue birds, finches, woodpeckers, etc. Your descriptions of the snow and weather are beautiful. I can picture it all, and can imagine what it’s like waking up in your cabin. Will be a faithful reader. Take care!

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